The Rising Importance Of Images In Google Search

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Marketing Podcast with Mike Blumenthal

In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Mike Blumenthal. Mike is the Co-founder and Analyst at Near Media where he researches and reports on reputation, reviews, and local search. Today, he also provides Local consulting to a range of businesses, big and small, across the SMB and SAAS marketplaces. Mike is assisting, an online professional photographic marketplace, with pivoting to the local marketing space and helping them bring the power of photography to every business located in the US and Canada.

Key Takeaway:

Google is emphasizing images more and more in search. AI and machine learning are helping drive Google’s incredible understanding of what is in an image. In this episode, I talk with Mike Blumenthal about the technology behind visual elements in search, the role that images play today in search, and how and why you should be using images in search to your advantage.

Questions I ask Mike Blumenthal:

  • [1:51] What’s the growing importance of images in search?
  • [3:21] Are you suggesting that images are also important for things not quite as clearly defined as products?
  • [4:45] What can search engines know about images now and how has that changed?
  • [6:19] What do you say to the business owner that doesn’t like that Google shows competitor products in search?
  • [7:55] Would you say that the visual elements of a typical blog post today are sending information to Google that adds to the search component and gives certain ranking signals?
  • [11:33] Is there a relationship between visual search and voice and text?
  • [12:40] What’s the role of AI in all of this?
  • [14:21] Are you suggesting that somebody could take three pictures that they are thinking about using for something and use a tool that would say this is actually the best picture from a Google understanding or from an optimization standpoint?
  • [16:52] Where is augmented reality with images?
  • [22:32] Where can people connect with you?

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John Jantsch (00:00): This episode of the duct tape marketing podcast is brought to you by business made simple hosted by Donald Miller and brought to you by the HubSpot podcast network business made simple, takes the mystery out of growing your business. A long time, listeners will know that Donald Miller's been on this show at least a couple times. There's a recent episode. I wanna point out how to make money with your current products, man, such an important lesson about leveraging what you've already done to get more from it. Listen to business made simple wherever you get your podcasts.

John Jantsch (00:46): Hello, and welcome to another episode of the duct tape marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Mike Blumenthal. He's the co-founder and analyst at near media, where he researches and reports on reputation reviews and local search. Today. He also provides local consulting to a range of businesses, big and small across the SMB and SAS marketplaces. He's assisting a company called and an online professional photographic marketplace to pivot to the local marketing space and helping them bring the power of photography to every business location in the us and Canada. So the reason I talk about cam I'm sorry, is that we are gonna talk about visual search images in search. So Mike, welcome really back to the show. It's been a couple times for you at least.

Mike Blumenthal (01:37): Thank you very much for having me. It's always a pleasure to speak with you both personally and professionally.

John Jantsch (01:43): Oh, thanks so much. So let's talk, I mean, I'll give you the really big question that you could probably talk the rest of the show for, but you know, our, you know, what's the growing importance of images in search, you know, what are all the factors that are leading us to talk about this thing?

Mike Blumenthal (01:59): So Google just today announced that 40% of their audience, younger audiences don't even come to Google search anymore because they prefer the visual nature of TikTok. So talk, so Google has gotten this for a very long time, but search has become about entities more than keywords. And in that Google is streaming visuals of entities everywhere in the search results. These days, both in older search results and newer search results and images, both drive search results and convert users. So they play an ever increasing role, not just in the non search world of social, but particularly in the search world of Google. Google is emphasizing images more and more. I did a analysis of the pixels of a mobile screen on a small business focused to keep a search and 35% of the surgeries. Well, 36% were image pixels versus 2017 when there was 0% of the search results were images on mobile. So they've moved very rapidly and very heavily into a visual stream of information as opposed to text.

John Jantsch (03:15): Now, I think for a long time, if I searched for something that was clearly a product, I was getting visuals in there. But I mean, are you suggesting that this is really, even for things that are, you know, not quite as clearly defined as products.

Mike Blumenthal (03:29): Yes. So if you break up say a mobile search result adds at the top, let's say LSA, add local service ads. Right, right, right. Google has started putting images of lawyers in there, obviously, excuse me, in product searches, you see products, but in the pack, you'll see carousel associated with each business in the organic result, Google will show up to five images in the mobile result for a loca for organic page. And then they have a whole range of new search units that are strictly visually based order food searched by photo. And it doesn't need to be in a visual industry, could be in pest control, could be in plumbing. Yeah. Obviously in purchase driven industries like jewelry, it's obvious, but it's showing up everywhere in all of those elements, ads, local pack, organic results, new search units, and virtually every one of those has become image Laden.

John Jantsch (04:30): So going back to the ancient ages of the internet, you know, people would sometimes even turn images off because of bandwidth issues and things. And so we, we all got very into producing, you know, alt attribute, you know, describing what the picture actually was. And that that was a, a help. Certainly it was a help to visually impaired, but it was also a certainly a help to Google to maybe know what that picture is about. What can search engines know about images now? I mean, how is, how has that changed?

Mike Blumenthal (04:55): So it's the most exciting part of search these days is Google's incredible understanding, driven by AI and machine learning of everything in the image. They understand the objects in the image. They understand the entities in the images. They understand the color patterns. They understand whether they're suggestive or unsafe in a yeah. Yeah. Social sense. They even understand clothing styles, not only do they understand color and color patterns, they can read and understand the logos. They can read text and convert the text image to a text understanding. So they literally understand all aspects of an image, whether you have an T tag or whether you don't. And this is to me, the most amazing thing, because they're using that extensively to match images, to search your intent in the search results. So they will actually show you images based that the search results will change based on your query, the images will reflect closer to your query than

John Jantsch (06:01): So one of the knocks I've heard on this a little bit, of course, you know, business owners like to complain because they think Google's there to serve them. is that, you know, if I search for a product, it will also say, uh, here's some things like that that you could buy, or if you like that, you're certainly telling us your style is this. And so here's some competitors products that you can buy again. You know, what do you say to the business owner that says, I don't like that because they're showing my competitors, I've done a great job, you know, of optimizing and showing up and search, and now Google's going out and showing my competitors

Mike Blumenthal (06:35): Well, Google is as Google does. Right? And they're big. And you're little the reality is that more people see you on Google search than see you almost any place else in the world. And the other reality is that more people convert to your business from Google search directly from Google search than from your website or any place else in a number of studies that I've done, joy Hawkins has done is Sterling sky, anywhere from 75 to 85% of local conversions are happening right on Google. Other words, people are clicking the call, right. Click to right driving directions right then and there, and not coming to your website. So you can either accept that reality or ignore that reality. Obviously ignoring 75% of your conversions. We're not talking about visibility or talking about conversions. It is a mistake. And if they're gonna give you the conversions, particularly if they're gonna give 'em to you for free, I think you need to maximize it to do that to you need to understand that this is where you're going to be seen the most. Yeah. And not only do you have to optimize your listing, you have to optimize every image and everything you do there. So that when you are compared to these other places, you look both, you look visually better and reputationally better so that people choose you.

John Jantsch (07:55): Would you say, so let's say a typical blog post. Would you say that the visual element of that blog post is now sending a signal? That's going to be a ranking signal to search engines, even if it's just vaguely about what the post is about, or are you saying that we should be picking a, uh, images that we can optimize in that would clearly like enhance, you know, the search component, you know, rather than just the visual component.

Mike Blumenthal (08:23): So the latter, it's not clear in organic that images are ranking factors, but Google understands the content of images and it will increase your clickthroughs. If Google includes an image in your organic results. So you get direct benefit from it. In the local, we have hard concrete evidence of conversion increases anywhere from 15 to 90% upticks in conversions. And there's some research out of patient pop, where they saw a 15% increase by switching both their Google local and their website from stock images to professional images, they actually saw about a 15% improvement in appointments at the participating practices. So big numbers of improvement, and it comes from sort of everything. It's not just the blog post, it's the blog post plus the website plus local, I think. Yeah. So I don't think you can focus on any one of those, but if you're going to, if your search result has images and your competitors doesn't have images, then you're gonna get more clicks regardless.

John Jantsch (09:34): Yeah. And I think that's a great point because I think we get so obsessed with, you know, ranking , but that, that, you know, if there were five, five competitors on page one, and just, as you said, maybe I'm in the three position, but I have an image that's very attractive. You know, I'm gonna, not only am I going to get more clickthroughs, I'm probably going to improve my, my search results. Aren't

Mike Blumenthal (09:56): I time and you're gonna improve your conversions, which

John Jantsch (09:58): Yeah. Which is ultimately what

Mike Blumenthal (09:59): We're after what it's all about. Right. I mean, interesting research out of Airbnb 2017, where they deconstructed photographs and under understand the elements of them and then analyzed when they followed these sort of rules of photography with professional photographer, photographs that followed the rule of thirds and good lighting and balanced imagery, they saw rental units increase sales on average by $2,800 annually. We we're talking big bottom line numbers from having better images, nothing else changed. The images changed and dollar values of the listing went up.

John Jantsch (10:39): Yeah. I actually saw, at some point they were actually offering photographers, you know, local photographers to go out and shoot your place for, because they knew how much value that had cuz people were doing a really, you know, you'd see some really bad photos. And so yeah. Makes a ton of sense.

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John Jantsch (11:31): And you could try it for seven days for free. Is there a relationship between image search or visual search and voice and text?

Mike Blumenthal (11:39): Well, the underlying technology of all of them are entities, real world things that Google is building graphs around people, places, item that Google is understanding more about them and the relationships between them. So at the highest level, they understand your brand and then they understand what your business does and they understand the products. Those are all entities and all searches becoming entities search, as opposed to it used to be keyword driven now. Yeah, it's sort of conceptually driven by the knowledge graph. And this is true. Whether it's text search or visual search or audio search, all the underlying technology in all of them is the knowledge graph with the interlinking between the various elements. So they're all function largely the same, but Google just delivers 'em in a different format.

John Jantsch (12:36): This is a really big question that you maybe can zero in on because you could go all over. You know, what's the role of AI in all of this.

Mike Blumenthal (12:43): So it's critical. Google has, I don't, if you go, if you remember back to Google, plus let me give you some history here. Sure. Google introduced Google photos as part of Google plus, and it was a very groundbreaking product that when Google plus was going down, Google photos was spun off into its own thing. And I think it was 2050 when it first came out, I was using it. And it was clear at the time that they were understanding everything in the images with no labeling. Yeah. And they understood location and all these other things about it. Now, since that time they've gotten 4 trillion images uploaded. They get 28 billion a week uploaded. They have scraped almost every image on the internet. They've gotten businesses to upload every image products about the place. So Google has trillions and trillions of images to which they've used to train large, these large assets to train their understanding.

Mike Blumenthal (13:42): And they, they have created one of the best understandings of images. Now AI still has its limits and certainly AI can be stupid sometimes in a non-human way and make mistakes. So in that sense, it's really important that when you take a photograph these days, that it appeals to a human, but that it is also understandable by the AI in the machine. You've gotta test it. You've gotta know that the picture of the dentist, Google, not only does the consumer think it looks good about the dentist, but that Google as a machine understands it as well.

John Jantsch (14:21): So, so that leads me to the point. You know, we we've, a lot of people have been using AI to now test what's the best subject line now that I should send. Right. So are you suggesting that somebody could take three pictures that they are thinking about using for something and use a tool that would say this is actually the best picture from a Google understanding or from a optimization standpoint?

Mike Blumenthal (14:43): Yes, I am saying that the tool you wanna use is Google's cloud vision AI. It was used to be free now, put it behind a paywall, but the company you mentioned at the beginning, they've actually just recently switched their website to air Although the other one redirects has re has recreated Google's tool on their website. So if you go there, air forward size, Google dash vision, I think, but you'll find it on the main page. Click on that, drop the image three images in and see what Google understands image ads Z. And if it's a great tiebreaker, because if Google understands one better than the other, in fact, this happened in a real shoot. We were in a dentist office and we took a couple pictures of the dentist with their actually had their secretary in the chair. But, and one Google thought was about medical equipment because of the hand with the medical glove was in front of the, just sort of low in the image and Google mistook that as the intent of the image, whereas the one where the hand was hidden, Google saw it as a dental image, even though to human, both looked equally good.

John Jantsch (15:51): And the data from, yes. Okay. So the data from that exercise or that search would, how else would you use that? Would you put that as the alt tag? Would you use that somehow else?

Mike Blumenthal (16:02): It, I mean, alt tags are value still valuable, but the reason has returned to their original reason, which is to help people who have foresight understand the content of an image. Correct? Yeah. Google, I think gave up on all tags long ago, they realized that most businesses aren't going to use them. I was trying to understand what, why Google was including images in the mobile search results. So I picked 50 search results that had images went and looked at the images on the website. And literally only one of them had an all tag and Google had still grabbed all these images and put it into the search results. Now I think the Alag helped Google confirm. I don't, but they're not using it as a primary thing. And more importantly, it helps your user understand image, right? So I think all tags are still important. Just not to inform Google,

John Jantsch (16:52): Tell me where augmented reality is with images. So I don't know how long ago, 10 years ago, do you remember Yelp came out with that Parascope thing? I think it was called, right. And you could point your phone, the app down a street and it would augment what you were looking at. Where is that in this conversation or does it even have a place anymore?

Mike Blumenthal (17:13): Well, it does have a, well, it doesn't have a place today from small business marketing for the most part. Now there is an aspect of visual search. Visual search has a very specific meaning. What we've been talking about up to this type time is visual search. In other words, search results, search results that are massively filled with images, but where people still input and text visual search as a technical term, refer to somebody, dropping an image into the search and searching on the image that's visual search. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So Google lens has now implemented a combined search where you can take a picture of an object, add a text Modi, and then it will return results to so that's visual search. Now the role of AI AR in this has been very slow to developed because the tools to see the AR have been slow to develop the most sophisticated tools right now are from Niantic and apple.

Mike Blumenthal (18:17): Those are the two leaders and apple has been very slow and methodical in building underlying technology into the phones and, but has been much slower at releasing a device that focuses on it. But you're starting to see it come up in very like Amazon uses it to allow you to position furniture in your room. Oh, right, right. Those types of things where you're seeing objects placed over real world. Yeah. And Apple's announcement around iOS, sixteen's gonna dramatically accelerate that. So right now it's not quite ready for a small business to worry about it from a marketing point of view. Um, but I think there, there will be use cases. Now video, on the other hand, short video, particularly 30 seconds and shorter Google is under parsing. Those the same way they parse images, understanding all the elements in the video, the break points, the topics, what people are talking about. They're transcribing them in real time. I think video is probably on the cusp of breakthrough has broken through in TikTok, but I think it will break through on Google very shortly. I think 30, 32nd and shorter videos have a huge role in small business marketing. And I think it's eminently doable with the technology that's available. And I think Google will reward it much the same way. It's rewarding images with increased conversions, increased visibility, more phone calls,

John Jantsch (19:50): And those videos need to be on YouTube or in natively embedded on your site is fine.

Mike Blumenthal (19:57): I, you know, I don't know where you're gonna get the best conversion, but I would do your site. Let's Google my business. Plus YouTube. I would do 'em all three places. And I probably would do 'em. I'd do 'em on YouTube. Use the YouTube to embed it on your site and then upload it to Google my business as well. And I think I would give you the maximum

John Jantsch (20:18): Just to Google my business, or I guess we need to say Google business profile. We

Mike Blumenthal (20:22): Do need to

John Jantsch (20:23): Say business Google

Mike Blumenthal (20:24): Business profile,

John Jantsch (20:25): Which Google business pro I had actually somebody asked me if I could help optimize their Google places page. So I was like, wow, great. That really hasn't been updated for a while. Has it? So, so you're saying though that to put those videos in posts on, on your Google business

Mike Blumenthal (20:38): Profile, into posts and into your photo area, both

John Jantsch (20:42): Oh into the photo

Mike Blumenthal (20:43): And Google will parse them. I was listening to a Google webinar for product experts. I'm, what's called the Google product expert where I volunteered that was business with Google. And they really liked what they called selfies were pictures of the products in your business, on the shelf where Google and the consumer could get a really solid idea of what the place looked like and the range of products you were offering. So I think selfies are, if they've created a term for it. Yeah. They're clearly focused on it. And I think it's the kind of photograph you want.

John Jantsch (21:17): Yeah. Interesting. So in a lot of ways, one of the biggest takeaways for the local business or for the small business is just, you know, do a better job with your images that you're using. And now there's some tools that can tell you if you are doing a good job with

Mike Blumenthal (21:32): Well, right. I think you need to think about it semantically. In other words, you need to think about the range of services you offer or the range of products you offer. And you want multiple high quality images in each of those categories that you can drip to Google over time that Google understands as those categories. Yeah. So think about your product and services broadly, categorize them, take multiple images in each check those images against Google's AI. And then we have found that dripping them into GMB into Google business profile, Google B P G B P, dripping them a couple a month is gonna give you the maximum increase in G B P visibility. For whatever reason, we don't know quite how Google doing this, but it dramatically increases conversions if you do it that way.

John Jantsch (22:32): Awesome. Well, Mike, it is always great to catch up with you. You are always on the cutting edge of the stuff and testing it out and, you know, seeing real world results. So I love getting your insight on things. You wanna tell people where they might connect with you if they so desire.

Mike Blumenthal (22:48): Sure. So my primary place of writing right now is near If you subscribe there, which is you just hit the subscribe button or near media Dosio slash subscribe, we will actually give you a ebook on imagery in Google local to that will summarize all of these things for you, put 'em in a more concrete form and help develop a plan for you. So, and on Twitter and Blumenthal, and to have opening Mentha, and I have open email. These, I always have open email, feel free to email me [email protected]. I answer every email. That's

John Jantsch (23:24): Awesome. And I can attest to, at least you answer mine.

Mike Blumenthal (23:27): Well, I didn't answer the last two you sent me, but that's cuz I was already setting up my gear.

John Jantsch (23:32): Awesome. Well, my great catching up with you and hopefully we'll run into you one of these days, soon out there on the road.

Mike Blumenthal (23:37): All right. Sounds good. Thank you very much for having me. I really appreciate it.

John Jantsch (23:42): Hey, and one final thing before you go, you know how I talk about marketing strategy strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the marketing strategy assessment. You can find it @ marketingassessment dot co not .com .co check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just I'd. Love to chat with you about the results that you get.

This Duct Tape Marketing Podcast episode is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network and Semrush.


HubSpot Podcast Network is the audio destination for business professionals seeking the best education and inspiration to grow a business.


Everybody’s online, but are they finding your website? Grab the online spotlight and your customers’ attention with Semrush. From Content and SEO to ads and social media, Semrush is your one-stop shop for online marketing. Build, manage, and measure campaigns —across all channels — faster and easier. Are you ready to take your business to the next level? Get seen. Get Semrush. Visit to try it free for 7 days.


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